House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler said on Monday that he has decided to postpone legal action against the Justice Department for access to former special counsel Robert Mueller’s files.
Nadler (D-N.Y.) ascribed his decision to an unspecified agreement with the Justice Department to begin providing “key evidence” that Mueller gathered in his investigation into whether President Donald Trump committed obstruction of justice offenses.
“If the department proceeds in good faith and we are able to obtain everything that we need, then there will be no need to take further steps,” Nadler said in a statement. “If important information is held back, then we will have no choice but to enforce our subpoena in court and consider other remedies.”
A Tuesday vote on the House floor authorizing the Judiciary Committee to hold Attorney General William Barr in civil contempt — enabling them to sue him for failing to provide documents demanded by the committee’s subpoena — is still scheduled, an aide confirmed. The Justice Department defied the committee’s subpoena for the full Mueller report and all of its underlying evidence, prompting the panel to hold Barr in contempt last month.
Tuesday’s vote will allow Nadler and other committee chairs to enforce existing or future subpoenas in federal court without requiring a full House vote for each one. But Nadler’s statement on Monday indicated that he will hold off on immediately going to court.
“We have agreed to allow the department time to demonstrate compliance with this agreement,” said Nadler, whose committee launched an investigation earlier this year into allegations that Trump obstructed justice and abused his power.
Nadler said the Justice Department will share the first batch of documents with the committee later Monday, adding that all members of the panel will be able to view them. It is unclear whether the agreement between House Democrats and the Justice Department allows those documents to become public.
It was also unclear which specific documents the committee secured. In a May 24 letter to Barr, Nadler had tailored his demand to specific contemporaneous notes, communications, and 302 reports — FBI agents’ notes of their witness interviews.
At a hearing Monday afternoon, Nadler said the documents include “interview notes, first-hand accounts of misconduct, and other critical evidence.”
“But our arrangement with the department does not extend to the full scope of our request for the full Mueller report and its underlying materials, including grand jury information, nor does it extend to our demand that Don McGahn, a key fact witness, testify before this committee,” Nadler said, referring to the former White House counsel, who was instructed by the White House to defy the committee’s subpoena for documents and public testimony.
The request includes the FBI 302 reports for McGahn, his former chief of staff Annie Donaldson, longtime Trump confidant Hope Hicks, former chief of staff Reince Priebus, and more than two dozen other former aides and advisers. Nadler also demanded contemporaneous notes from Donaldson and six others.
Last week, the White House instructed both Donaldson and Hicks to defy the Judiciary Committee’s subpoena for documents, and the president is expected to instruct them to skip scheduled public testimony later this month. Donaldson in particular was a key witness for Mueller’s investigation, and she shared her voluminous notes with investigators. Her notes shed light on the frantic mood inside the White House after Mueller’s appointment and after Trump moved to fire FBI Director James Comey.
Nadler said the House intended to delay any action to hold Barr in criminal contempt — a more aggressive punishment — but Democrats signaled last week that criminal contempt was not an option because it would require the Justice Department to charge the attorney general with a crime.
Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec on Monday stated, “the Department of Justice remains committed to appropriately accommodating Congress’s legitimate interests related to the special counsel’s investigation and will continue to do so provided the previously voted-upon resolution does not advance.”
Republicans cheered the temporary cessation of hostilities between Democrats and the Trump administration, which have reached a boiling point in recent weeks over the White House’s refusal to comply with House Democrats’ demands for documents and witness testimony.
“The Justice Department has yet again offered accommodations to House Democrats, and I am glad Chairman Nadler — for the first time in months — has finally met them at the negotiating table,” said the Judiciary Committee’s top Republican, Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia.
Nadler’s announcement of the deal came just hours before the committee was set to hear from Nixon White House Counsel John Dean and other witnesses for a public hearing focusing on volume two of Mueller’s report, which focuses on Trump’s efforts to obstruct the probe.
Mueller decided not to charge Trump with obstruction of justice, citing longstanding Justice Department guidelines which prohibit the indictment of a sitting president. In televised public remarks last month, Mueller said “the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing” — a statement that Democrats said was a referral to Congress for impeachment.